Thank you for your Twitter post raising the very important topic of stress, guilt, and sadness when a breastfeeding mother experiences low milk production.
I could feel the deep despair you expressed through your words because I have supported thousands of mothers, just like you, who felt tremendous guilt and stress when they tried their best to make enough milk.
Can I emphatically tell you something? You and your body did not “fail” with making enough milk. You were failed by the current breastfeeding education and guidelines, which don’t fully inform mothers about their biological and psychosocial risk factors for low milk supply. Instead, parents are taught that every mother can make enough breast milk if she has the right support; but the research tells us that low milk supply is far more common than people realize. All of the support in the world cannot increase breastmilk supply if your body cannot biologically produce it!
normalize breastfeeding is such a huge, wonderful thing. but I absolutely felt way more shame having to use formula because of lack of milk from depression and whatnot.
the stress of it, combined with the guilt that you cannot do nature's most natural thing for your own baby is too much. I dunno why this is my crusade now. I just remember the sadness I felt and want you to know you are doing it right if your baby is fed, mama.
On August 11, 2020, Dr. Nicole King, Anesthesiologist, Critical Care Intensivist, Patient Safety Expert and Senior Advisor to the Fed is Best Foundation spoke at the USDA Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee meeting warning of the dangers and patient rights violations of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Watch her address below.
Good afternoon, my name is Nicole King and I am a mother and a physician. As an anesthesiologist and intensive care physician, I am faced with life and death circumstances every day. In no way did I ever consider breastfeeding my child would be as stressful as supporting a COVID patient through their critical illness. Five years ago, I realized how wrong I was.
As a new mother who had had a breast reduction and a physician, I should have known better, but I did not. I fed into the same propaganda, misinformation and fervor around breastfeeding that has grown over the last 30 years as a result of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and the WHO’s Ten Steps [to Successful Breastfeeding]. I was not informed of its risks and followed the exclusive breastfeeding guidelines, and as a result, my newborn lost excessive weight and was readmitted for dehydration and jaundice.
The current USDA guidelines are filled with the same soft science riddled by confounding factors, that has led to the shaming of women who are unable to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. The guidelines are an ableist and elitist narrative and read as an invitation to admonish women for failing to produce enough milk for her child. It blatantly ignores research that clearly shows that delayed lactogenesis of mature milk is common, found in up to 40% of first-time mothers and 22% of all mothers, even those who are motivated to exclusively breastfeed. Never mind the 15% of women who are incapable of sustaining breastfeeding past the first month, even with lactation support.
If you are ill and in the hospital, nutritionists are there to calculate the calories needed to feed you in order for you to thrive and recover. Why then are we so easily fooled into thinking an infant who is building muscle, fat and brain cells can be sustained on far less than their caloric needs, purported by the Baby-Friendly policy? If the “biological norm” is put forth as a reason to exclusively breastfeed, then why are exclusively breastfed infants being admitted daily for dehydration, jaundice, and hypoglycemia? Why do we continue to insist on a policy that increases the risk of harm to infants while vilifying supplementation that prevents serious complications? Every day, I protect my patients with medications, machines and nutritional alternatives to overcome so many failures of the “biological norm.” I do this because I too am human and understand that we care and love for each other regardless of our ability to live up to a standard of perfection. Yet we allow babies to become seriously ill by pressuring mothers to achieve this standard of perfection that millions cannot safely achieve. If judicious and humane supplementation is the difference between a hospitalized and a safely breastfed child, then we have failed all mothers and infants in this country by disparaging its use.
The USDA draft policy continues to ignore these realities and thus fails to protect countless infants. National guidelines should never encourage a policy that is directly responsible for the leading cause of rehospitalization of healthy term infants. And most importantly, as a national guideline, it should apply to all mothers, regardless of her ability to breastfeed, across all socioeconomic demographics.
As a mother who followed these guidelines and was led to rehospitalize her own infant, I beg you to consider the plight of all mothers and infants in this country. Every infant deserves to be protected from hospitalization and the complications of an exclusive breastfeeding policy. And their mothers deserve to know that breast milk is but one way to best nourish their children. The USDA is responsible for every child in the US and their policy should reflect this responsibility.
Dr. Nicole King, M.D. is a patient safety expert and Senior Advisor of the Fed is Best Foundation. She is a board-certified anesthesiologist and critical care intensivist.
When my baby was 5 days old, I got a call from the pediatrician we chose before birth. As soon as I answered, she started speaking very fast and explained that Northside Hospital had notified her that one of our son’s Newborn Screening Test results had come back with an abnormal reading; he needed to be evaluated by a doctor urgently, but in the meantime, I needed to be sure to feed him every two hours. I couldn’t even compute all she said, but I explained that we were already in the NICU at Children’s Hospital because of his low body temperature on the first night home from the hospital. We found out that day our son has medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD).
WHAT IS MEDIUM-CHAIN ACYL-COA DEHYDROGENASE DEFICIENCY (MCADD)?
Medium-Chain Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency, or MCADD, is a rare genetic metabolic condition in which a person has difficulty breaking down fats to use as an energy source while fasting. It is estimated to affect one (1) in every seventeen thousand (17,000) people in the United States. All babies have a newborn screening (NBS) blood test to check for various genetic and metabolic disorders such as MCADD, but it can take five or more days until the results are reported.
Our close call with our baby’s life haunts us, but it propels us to advocate and educate others—about MCADD, yes, but also about the risks of exclusive breastfeeding, before the onset of copious milk production or insufficient colostrum amounts before those crucial Newborn Screening test results are back, which typically takes 5-7 days. We share our story openly and widely, passionately trying to dispel the myths propagated by the “Breast is Best” movement.
I had a beautiful, healthy pregnancy with Bryson, with the help of Clomid (a fertility drug), like my first pregnancy with my daughter. After about 31 hours of induced labor, Bryson was here. Seven pounds, twelve ounces, and seemingly healthy! He latched like a champ immediately, and we had zero complications of any sort while in the hospital. He had wet and dirty diapers and was breastfeeding well, every 2–3 hours. His discharge weight was 7 lbs, and I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two days later.
NEWT is the first tool that allows pediatric healthcare providers and parents to see how a newborn’s weight during the first days and weeks following childbirth compares with a large sample of newborns, which can help with early identification of weight loss and weight gain issues. Bryson was discharged with a weight loss of 9.7 percent at 36 hours of age. The NEWT graph indicates his weight loss was excessive.
The first two days at home were easy. He was a sleepier baby than my daughter was, and unless wet or hungry, he was calm. I continued to breastfeed him for 20 minutes every three hours as instructed. I did begin to notice that his newborn onesie seemed quite big on him. His wet diapers did slow down on the third day, and he hadn’t pooped since the third day either. At two in the morning on July 29th, at four days postpartum, I tried to breastfeed again, but he was just too sleepy to nurse, and he would not latch no matter how hard I tried. I tried so many times, different ways, different positions. I thought he would eventually latch but he just wanted to sleep. I thought, well I can’t force-feed him, so I’ll try again after he rests a little more. I tried several times after that, and he was just less and less interested. He had started to get pale and lethargic. It was also the day of his two-day post discharge checkup at the hospital, so I decided to take him in early, since I was getting concerned.
During the whole drive there, I felt in my heart that time was of the essence. After the nurse checked him, she said he would have to be admitted, as he didn’t look too good, and his weight had dropped to 6 lbs 9 oz; he had lost over a pound in the four days since his birth. She turned her back, and I noticed he stopped moving. I hesitantly asked, “Is he breathing?” She turned around and yelled, “no!” then fumbled and fumbled to open a plastic bag; I finally screamed at her: “do something!” She picked him up and ran him down the hall.
Mothers are taught that it’s rare to not produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed in nearly every breastfeeding book, mommy group, and hospital breastfeeding class. The truth is, we have limited studies that provide an accurate percentage of the number of mothers who can produce enough milk for their baby for the recommended 6 months. Although actual rates of adequate milk production are unknown, there are estimates that range from 12-15 percent or more.